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Perks of Being Petibourgeois
(Musings of a Third World Radical)
David Michael M. San Juan
This is not a novel. This is not a scholarly work if by “scholarly work” you mean “a comprehensive essay using the MLA or APA citation style.” This is a collection of essays, even fragments of essays at times, on almost anything under the Third World sun. Most essays are aimed at making sense of things, events, peoples etc. in the Third World but since our world is just one, some Third World issues in fact encompass First World ones. Hence, while this is basically a collection of musings by a Third World radical, First World things, events, peoples etc. also have a place inside its pages. The author would try his best to update this continuing project, albeit possibly at an irregular interval. Why “Perks of Being Petibourgeois”? We petibourgeois people have this unusual perk of having some time to reflect on issues that matter without worrying much about our bread (or rice ration) for tomorrow. Hence, we might as well consider expressing ourselves freely as I had attempted in this mini-collection. Comments, questions, reactions, suggestions etc. are welcome via his Facebook: www.facebook.com/lastrepublic or Twitter: lastrepublic or email: email@example.com. One final revelation: this is partly inspired by Antonio Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks.” But obviously, this is not Gramsci speaking. This is me.
TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. Myth of A Borderless World 2. Death of The Academe 3. The National (In)Security State 4. Traps of Tokenism in The Third World 5. “21st Century Socialism” in Latin America 6. Asian-Style Capitalism and Theology 101 7. Social Movements and The Lumpenproletariat 8. Words as Weapons of the Ruling Class 9. Proletarianization of the Petibourgeoisie 10. The Scandinavian Alternative
Myth of A Borderless World
Neoliberal globalization promised the advent of a borderless world. It appears the promise remains a myth – fake, bogus, a pretty lie, an illusion. Instead of building a genuinely borderless world, First World countries merely eliminated trade restrictions in the Third World so as to favor their “competitive” services and industries. While some Third World states have succeeded in making their services and industries “competitive” too, it comes with a price: wanton disregard for workers’ dignity (dirt-cheap wages, horrendous working conditions etc.). Meanwhile, the myth of a borderless world is smashed into smithereens daily as reports on hysterical anti-immigration rhetoric, oldschool racism and the like surface in the media. Citizens from the Third World are routinely subjected to embarrassing patdowns and other (in)security checks. Indeed, in a number of First World airports, Third World citizens are considered terrorists unless proven otherwise. Migrant workers are treated like chattel. They are typically required to bring their passports and identification documents, reminiscent of the way the Nazis treated the Jews in the bad old days. These are worse times. In some boorish countries, migrant workers are explicitly told that they’re there to work and not to have fun, that after work, they should immediately scram to their miserable Third Worldish shanties in the First World. Literal and figurative walls have been built too to conceal Third World poverty amidst First World opulence. Some First World citizens just irrationally hate to see migrant workers, yet they keep on gulping, consuming, gobbling up products made by migrants. At times, the walls are there to make life more miserable for the “Other,” as in the case of the Great Wall(s) of Israel in Palestine. Around the world, the gap between working-class tenements and posh gated villages is worse than ever. A number of roads, malls, parks and other traditionally public spaces have been privatized, made exclusive for the moneyed class. Welcome to the world of visas, checkpoints, passports, (in)security checks, anti-immigration histrionics. Welcome to the real world where borders, barriers and restrictions are more important than peoples.
Death of The Academe
In the good old days, the academe used to serve public welfare. It was at the forefront of many struggles for social liberation and transformation. It used to denounced imperialist war, Third World neocolonialism, wage slavery, corporate globalization, income disparity, widespread hunger, child labor in speeches, researches, manifestos, even marches and strikes. Nowadays, the academe is composed mostly of men and women who serve as apologists of the unjust status quo. Few researches mention imperialism, capitalism, neocolonialism and other root causes of the current crises (to their credit, some do use euphemisms to circumvent censorship). Researchers now churn out incomprehensible tapestries of absurd theoretical assertions, hundreds of quotes from supposed “experts,” horrendously crazy tables (which no common man will comprehend even with notes), loads of statistical data, and other bits and pieces of unintelligible phrases and statements, and call their work “research.” Attempt a back-to-basics approach and the gangsters of academe will laugh at you, label your work “lacking in theoretical adeptness” or at the very least simply ignore your work, irrespective (or more precisely because) of its lucidity. Indeed, even if academe’s scholarly outputs become all of a sudden mostly enlightened and progressive, chances are slim that these works will be accessible to the common folks, the masses. Corporations now control most journal databases which restrict access to researches by imposing huge fees. Never mind the fees, just look the language of current researches. Incomprehensibility is now the primary standard of what is labeled as research. The more incomprehensible a research is, the more likely it will be praised as a work of quality. The worst tragedy? Few members of the academe now are brave enough to challenge the status quo outside the classroom, the library, and their cubicles, despite the glaring fact that the world has descended from bad to worse in many aspects, in recent years. Academe is dead.
The National (In)Security State
Others may call it as the “Orwellian state” but the stoutly anti-totalitarian and selfdescribed democratic socialist (not “social democrat”) George Orwell will protest against such label if he were alive. To readers of “1984,” the term “Big Brother State” will be acceptable. More than a billion people go hungry everyday while governments around the world – from the First to the Third Worlds – spend trillions of dollars for weapons, nuclear submarines, surveillance gadgets, anti-bomb canine units, bloated police and military apparatuses etc. Security is no longer defined as the people’s security FROM hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, extreme poverty etc. Instead, security is now defined as the government’s profligate spending for technologies aimed at ensuring that all enemies of the state and the status quo – from pacifist activists to armed leftist and/or communist guerrillas, and from anarchistic lumpenproletarian elements to highly efficient and ideology-less terrorists – are prevented from questioning and/or smashing into smithereens the now crumbling legitimacy of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and various shades of imperialism in the West and in the East.
Traps of Tokenism in The Third World
Beware of bureaucrat-capitalists bearing gifts. In the Third World, these “gifts” are nothing but tokenistic reforms aimed at pre-empting the surge of radical social movements that clamor for the implementation of sweeping reforms, putting balm to the festering wound without attempting to heal it, so to speak. One cunning example of such gifts is the Party-List System in the Philippines. Framers of the country’s 1987 Constitution acknowledged that the poor, the marginalized sectors are disenfranchised by the political system instituted to favor a few powerful and wealthy clans. To address such imbalance, they established the Party-List System to provide an avenue to marginalized sectors to win special seats in Congress. Years hence, instead of fighting tooth and nail to capture national political power through obliterating and replacing the oppressive system, a number of grassroots organizations have become more engaged in tiresome battles to gain seats in Congress. In other words, they have been – wittingly or unwittingly – trapped in the dirty and murky waters of bourgeois politics. A huge chunk of their measly funds are now utilized for endeavors aimed at capturing more seats. While they can use their seats in Congress to clamor for reforms within the system, it is a fact that aiming for more seats will tie them down to ceaseless electoral battles, in effect decreasing their time and resources that can be maximized for the ultimate goal of capturing national political power through radical social change. In a nutshell, it is tragic that these grassroots organizations are now seemed content merely to having huge chunks of good bread and have now forgotten that the original mission is to demand, nay, seize the whole goddamn bakery. Just the same, God bless them!
“21st Century Socialism” in Latin America
Traditional Marxists emphasize that only the proletarians can break the power of capitalism through armed revolution, and eventually establish a new world where everyone is free and happy. That was old-school socialism for some. Meanwhile, in Latin America, democratically-elected anti-imperialist and/or anti-capitalist leaders from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa hold the banner of “21st Century Socialism” high. Instead of proletarian and peasant armies smashing the state into smithereens to build a proletarian one, Latin American masses have propelled their candidates to power via elections. It is an awkward situation where the Marxists – or at least people inspired by Marxism and socialism – find themselves leading the government established and until recently, controlled by elite capitalists, through the means that the latter had originally designed. In other words, critics of the bourgeoisie were able to defeat the bourgeoisie in its own game, without even attempting to violently wipe out the bourgeoisie. It is possible that this model may work for a number of countries but it is certain that it can’t work in all countries. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are just lucky that the ideological influence of American capitalism and imperialism on their respective armed forces is relatively weak and/or even non-existing. In contrast, such ideological influence is very strong in countries such as India, Colombia, and the Philippines (countries which are consistently controlled by American ideological allies at least in recent decades, and countries where armed left-wing and/or Marxist insurgencies still thrive today). The relative weakness of American ideological influence in the police-military apparatuses of countries that now subscribe to “21st century socialism” is a boon to the growth of radical yet unarmed left-leaning social movements that can capture national political power without any need for a violent revolution. In such countries, Marxists, socialists, leftists and other radicals can freely preach, and hence, are empowered enough to win power through the ballots, without fear of reprisal from rabidly anti-leftist and/or antisocialist state security forces. Meanwhile, in India, Colombia, and the Philippines, such freedom is lacking, hence it is commonsensical that the most radical elements of social movements in these countries are compelled by the circumstances to engage in armed insurgencies.
Asian-Style Capitalism and Theology 101
As the Anglo-Saxon mode of Pac-Man capitalism loses legitimacy due to its leaders’ failure to address the international financial crisis brought by their own greed, other modes such as Asian-style capitalism gain ground among capitalists who cling to their obsolete way of life. Characterized by strong government regulation of financial institutions and robust state involvement in vital businesses and industries, this mode of capitalism seems to succeed in moderating the insatiable greed of corporations. Hence, nations that subscribe to this mode seem to endure the financial crisis better than their Western counterparts. Unfortunately, it should be emphasized that Asian-style capitalism survives not because Asian governments are excellent regulators. The humungous profits that Asian corporations and multinational firms in Asia reap at an ever-increasing rate are of course the logical result of bleeding the Asian proletariat dry through regressive taxation, contractualization (and other cost-saving labor flexibilization schemes), overtime work without (commensurate) pay, withholding of benefits, soaring prices, and horrendously low (and at times) stagnant wages. In the more advanced Asian economies, most of these low-paid workers who produce the superprofits that the capitalists accumulate in scandalously humungous hoards, are migrant workers who are treated like chattel. If there’s hell to pay, God will certainly send many Asian capitalists there, and conversely, there will be many Asian workers in heaven.
Social Movements and The Lumpenproletariat
Gangsters, vagabonds, beggars, thieves, pickpockets, assassins, scabs, drug pushers, prostitutes...These elements compose the lumpenproletariat. Technically, working peoples who engage in antisocial activities primarily to survive. Tired of the myth of the system’s justice and fairness, they had decided to individually seek their redemption, albeit at the expense of other oppressed/working peoples and/or their own dignity. Left on their own, they just keep on doing what they’re doing to survive. Enlightened by social reformers or revolutionaries, they can help propel the glocal social movement for positive transformation to resounding success. A number of their skills if utilized correctly, are beneficial to any social movement. Unfortunately, few reformist and revolutionary organizations are interested into arousing, organizing and mobilizing the lumpenproletariat. Just the same, lumpenproletarians of the world unite, for you have nothing to lose but your chains! With the proletarians, you have a world to win!
Words as Weapons of the Ruling Class
Philippine media firms are mostly privately-owned. Indeed, the three biggest television channels in the country are private corporations run by big businessmen. It is thus no surprise that these channels mouth the propaganda of the ruling class. A number of their reporters and news anchors may attempt to disrupt such continuity but they will never succeed in their noble endeavors until they get out of those privatelyowned firms. This political dilemma encompasses all forms of media. The owners/financiers set the parameters of what will be “news” and what will be killed as “nonsense” or deliberately sidelined as “not very important.” While professing fairness and neutrality, these firms are obsessed with suppressing counterhegemonic thought. Hence, the very words they use betray their true colors. In referring to extrajudicial killings perpetrated by state security forces and dynastic private militias against activists and/or journalists, these firms use the term “unexplained killings.” The criminal intent has been obliterated. The fact that the killings are illegal, extrajudicial, unwarranted, immoral, obscene, unjust has been deliberately wiped out. It’s as if those activists and/or journalists were just killed for no reason at all, and that when someone or an entity explains why they were killed, all will be well, case will be closed. A former dictator is rarely labeled as a dictator. Most mediamen use the milder term “strongman” or “autocrat.” The use of the poetic “tyrant” is laudable but the word “dictator” captures the gravity of crimes committed by the tyrant. The poor are rarely called “poor.” Media would rather use “marginalized,” or “destitute.” It’s as if using the milder terms can soothe the people’s poverty. There’s no mention of any “socialist” candidate or a “socialist” group in the Philippines. There’s always that “leftist” congressman or those “communist” guerrillas. Mediamen are perfectly aware that “leftist” and “communist” have negative connotations in the common man’s mind, while “socialist” is somewhat positive. Hence, any mention of “socialist” or “socialism” is a nono. Despite its existence, there’s no mention of “American imperialism” or even “Chinese imperialism” in the country’s media. There’s only the euphemistic “American intervention” or “Chinese aggression,” despite the fact that there are a number of annual mentions about “Spanish colonialism.” The past matters but mediamen make sure the people don’t get its connection to the present and the future. “Labor strikes” are always portrayed as “disruptive” but there’s no mention about “capitalist exploitation.” News about America’s “fiscal cliff” will be reported but there’s no mention of “automatic debt appropriations” in the Philippines. Words are indeed weapons in this big war. Master the use of words and you win half of the war. Our battlecry: go forth and memorize the dictionary (or press Shift F7).
Proletarianization of the Petibourgeoisie
The middle class is dead in the Third World. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been so huge as it is today. What the government labels as the middle class is nothing but an illusion. It is merely the proletarianized petibourgeoisie in sanitized and air-conditioned cubicles or work places spatially different from but somewhat reminiscent of industrial factories where the proletariat of the old days are mostly in. Instead of products, this proletarianized petibourgeoisie specializes in offering services and/or concocting financial data incomprehensible to the common man. Without them, the capitalist world will instantly crumble. There will be no malls, banks, call centers, information databases etc. without them. Unfortunately, like the fabricated humanoids in the movie “Cloud Atlas,” the proletarianized petibourgeoisie have no collective consciousness. They don’t/won’t care for a collective future. They just care about what they label as their “work.” Yes, they have dreams: dreams of owning houses, cars, having those bourgeois trips around the world, relaxing the whole year round... They dream of becoming part of the bourgeoisie, not of liberating themselves from the shackles of capitalism. Indeed, few of them realize that capitalism is slavery. They work like slaves but they think they’re free. Behold the proletarianized bourgeoisie with no proletarian consciousness. If Marx were alive, he’ll be very shocked that we’ve sunk this low.
The Scandinavian Alternative
Marxists will always insist that the proletarian class, the workers themselves must control everything in the future socialist world. Hence, discussions on the pros and cons of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” are very common. But what if instead of the directly confrontational “dictatorship of the proletariat,” we attempt to establish a “worker-led democracy,” a country where capitalists and workers co-exist, with the prolabor government as the arbiter. Roughly, the Scandinavian/Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) have such governments. The workers have decided not to obliterate the capitalist class. Meanwhile, the capitalists – afraid of any proletarian revolution – agreed to demonopolize the profits earned by corporations just to preserve the status quo that serves them well. The governments, usually pro-labor (considering the very high average negotiated wage in Scandinavian countries), exists to impose higher taxes on the wealthy capitalists so as to provide for most needs of the people. In a nutshell: capitalists are still able to extract “surplus value” from the workers; exploitation is still there but since the workers are relatively satisfied and somewhat pampered with a social welfare state partly funded by the “surplus value” that the government took away from the hands of the capitalists in the form of taxes, the class war predicted by Marx and Engels is avoided, at least postponed perhaps. Scandinavian governments offer free education at all levels, generous unemployment benefits, and excellent socialized health care. As a result, the Scandinavian countries consistently enjoy high rankings in the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Indeed, Norway has been the best country to live in, for the past years. No one can deny that the Scandinavian alternative – that hybrid mix of capitalist accumulation of profits and socialist redistribution – works better than the dominant Anglo-Saxon mode of old-school Pac-Man capitalism. Is it possible to replicate the relative success of the Scandinavian alternative worldwide? Perhaps there’s no harm in trying.